I read with sadness, but not much surprise, your article about one woman’s search into historical documents about the lives of 19th-century women in rural Wisconsin, as a lens through which to discuss abortion and contraception as women’s lived experience 150-200 years ago. The article points out that at the time, abortion was “often a safer alternative to childbirth”.
In fact, childbirth in the US is still quite dangerous. In 2020, the maternal mortality rate was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, significantly worse than in the years previous. The mortality rate for women having legal abortions is very small; two women reportedly died from abortion complications in 2018. Compare that to about 700 women who die, on average, each year in the US from pregnancy-related complications.
Has there ever been a time when abortion was more dangerous than pregnancy and childbirth? The US has an appalling record on maternal health, but it could be argued that, in even the safest country to give birth, abortion is safer still.
This is not to downplay the serious and tragic consequences of the anti-abortion movement in the US, and the US supreme court’s decision to strike down Roe v Wade. Abortion will become more dangerous, as will pregnancy and childbirth. Our nation will sit by and watch more and more women die. But there was no “golden age” when pregnancy and childbirth were safer than abortion.
Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, US
• I read your article on abortion in 19th-century Wisconsin with interest, as it showed women taking control of their bodies and lives (‘Thank the lord, I have been relieved’: the truth about the history of abortion in America, 12 July). My father, now in his 90s, recently talked to me about Hungary, his country of birth, as it was in the 1930s.
His mother had two children 10 years apart. My grandmother had at least one medical abortion and several chemically induced abortions. She travelled to Germany for the medical ones.
Most peasant women in their village did the same thing. They were too poor to have more than two children, and could not support a bigger family. It was accepted by all. In fact, my grandmother criticised my parents for having too many children (four) and suggested abortions. She was a strong Catholic.
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